Testimony: Boy accused of playground murder said he had ‘anger problems’

Posted at 9:34 AM, Sep 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-02 09:34:06-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The trial of Jamarion Lawhorn, the youngest person ever to be charged with murder as an adult in Kent County, entered its second day of testimony Wednesday, with a description of the home where Lawhorn was growing up.

Lawhorn, 13, is accused of killing Connor Verkerke, 9, on a playground in Kentwood in August of 2014.  In emotional testimony Tuesday, Connor's little brother Kameron testified how Lawhorn pulled a knife out of the sandbox and stabbed Connor.  Connor's parents testified about finding Connor covered in blood.  The court also heard the 911 tapes where Lawhorn told dispatchers that he had killed someone and wanted to die.

Wednesday morning, the lead detective from Kentwood Police Department Amol Huprikar testified about finding more knives hidden through Lawhorn's home, including in his bedroom.  He also testified that the home was in poor condition with electrical issues and rodent droppings, and evidence of alcohol and drug abuse, finding cocaine in the home.  Lawhorn's mother has been previously convicted of child abuse and welfare fraud.

The medical examiner, Dr. David Start also took the stand this morning.  He testified that Connor was stabbed six times, mostly in the back and right side.  Two stab wounds punctured Connor's lungs, which were the fatal blows.  Dr. Start is the last witness scheduled for the prosecution.

During the afternoon session, Lawhorn's mother and stepfather testified more into the conditions at the home and Jamarion's mental state.

Jamarion's mother Anita Lawhorn testified, after being granted immunity, meaning her testimony cannot be used against her in the future as she awaits trial for child abuse charges. She said she disciplined her son Jamarion with spanking then belts once he was about 7, but then stopped.

“I never left marks on any of my kids," said Anita Lawhorn.

She said Jamarion got disciplined for things like setting fires inside the house, forging his stepfather's name on school work, and getting into trouble at school.

Jamarion's stepfather Bernard Harrold then testified, taking responsibility for the scars on the back of Jamarion's legs from a whipping. He said after that he apologized then never used corporal punishment again, but said he would "whip him with a belt or calisthenics" since Jamarion was about 6.

Earlier, Dr. Debra Simms, pediatric child abuse expert, testified. She said Jamarion told her Harrold would beat him with an extension cord if he didn't clean up, do the dishes, or fill the ice-tray.

"[Jamarion] made the statement that [my step-father] treat me like a slave," said Dr. Simms.

Dr. Simms said Jamarion was a victim of pediatric child abuse, reviewing pictures of the scars on the back of his legs. She said Jamarion also told her he had "anger problems," and "stated that he had problems at school, that he had taken a fake toy knife to school and got in trouble for talking in class.”

There were at least three Child Protective Services investigations into the Lawhorn's. Since the investigation in May 2013, both Anita Lawhorn and Harrold admitted they took parenting classes but never got Jamarion mental health treatment.

“I was advised to put [Jamarion] in counseling but at the same time Jamarion wanted to go to New York to live with his dad for year, so they okayed it," testified Anita Lawhorn. "So no I didn’t do it because he wasn’t in my home.”

Shortly after in 2013, Jamarion went to live with his father's family in New York, then returned to his mother and stepfather's home in June 2014.

The CPS investigator who took the stand, Paula Leonard, testified that petition to remove Jamarion from his mother and stepfather's home could have been started but it never was. When the jury was on break, Kent County Family Court Judge Paul Denenfield seemed critical of CPS and the lack of services Jamarion received.

The day Connor Verkerke was killed, Aug. 4, 2014, Anita Lawhorn had told Leonard with CPS that, "my child was happy but there was a lot going on that day." Then she seemed to get frustrated on the stand and said, “I can’t sit here and tell you what’s inside my son’s mind."

Also on Aug. 4, 2014, Anita said Jamarion was "on punishment," or grounded, and was not to leave or play on the computer. She and Harrold testified that he called home from work that day and when he found out Jamarion was on the computer he spoke to Jamarion.

“I told him he would get another week, and I was loud, I was loud," said Harrol. "I said I would deal with him when I got home.”

Anita testified, "I didn’t see that it affected Jamarion at the time. Jamarion just simply said 'okay,' and that was it.”

The trial resumes Thursday morning.

Victim: Michael Connor Verkerke